Travel Guide

Sydney in a day

By Juliette · Feb 2024 · 10 min read
A guide to Australia's biggest city for those short on time.

So, you've got one day to spend sightseeing in Sydney – what should you do if you're pressed for time and want to see Sydney in a day? This simple guide is aimed at giving both first-time visitors to Sydney and those from abroad the best 1-day experience possible. Here are our travel tips, along with directions to seeing Sydney in a day.

First tip: Put some comfy shoes on. Is it really a travel day if you haven’t done over 15,000 steps?

1. Start at Sydney Eye Tower

Start your day off at the Sydney Eye Tower, the city's highest viewing point. You'll be treated to views of the iconic Harbour with its Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and even a spectacle that extends all the way out to the Blue Mountains in the distance (on a clear day).

The morning might be a safe way to beat the crowd. It opens at 9:00am every day of the year except some public holidays. The tower is located at the corner of Pitt and Market Streets in the middle of Sydney's retail precinct and just a short walk from Town Hall and St James train stations, with any Bus service along George and Elizabeth streets also available.

You can buy tickets online to the tower on their own, or you can combine entry to a number of other popular attractions in the area including WILD LIFE Zoo, SEA LIFE Aquarium and Madame Tussauds with a great value combo pass or attraction package. If you prefer a day full of iconic attractions, the combo passes let’s you save nearly 50% off.

2. Pitt Street shopping

Only a 2-minute walk from Sydney Tower, it's time to head to Pitt Street. This is one of Sydney's core shopping hubs, so whether you’re shopping with the wallet or eyes, you’ll be sure to spot something you like. With the breadth of shops and department stores like David Jones on Pitt Street so there’s something for everyone’s taste. Happy shopping!

Hot tip: If you’re visiting on a Thursday, shops in Oz open a tad later so you might be able to squeeze more in the schedule.

3. Visit the Art Gallery of NSW

Finished shopping? Less than 15 minutes away, you can visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales, one of the best finest galleries in all of Australia. Located on the aptly-named Art Gallery Road, it’s open almost everyday of the year from 10:00am to 5:00pm.

Hot tip: On Wednesdays, they’re open until 10:00pm (I think that calls for more shopping...)

A visit to the gallery is a great option for those who are looking for a taste of culture, and an ideal escape from the rain during wet weather. The gallery is composed of five different levels, each of which presents a diverse range of art and artistic styles including pieces of Aboriginal Art, Colonial and 20th-Century European-influenced Australian art, and galleries featuring tributes to old European and Asian masters. Inside, there is a lovely cafe also if you need a rest and a cuppa.

In late 2022, the gallery extended a new section which houses modern art. The new standalone building includes art, architecture and landscape from leading Australian and international artists. Both galleries are right next to each other so visiting one or both is easy.

Not interested in this one? Prefer contemporary art? Not to worry. Head straight to Royal Botanical Gardens and you’ll have the chance to see the Museum of Contemporary Art.

4. Wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens

Head north along Art Gallery Road and turn left to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens. Just a short walk from the Art Gallery of NSW, the Botanic Gardens are one of our 10 must-see while in Sydney and provide a cavalcade of natural floral beauty while remaining close to the Sydney CBD, with glimpses of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House rounding out the spectacle.

The gardens open at 7:00am all year round, and are divided up into a series of specialised individual gardens that each emphasise a different area of the world of plantlife, from Palms to Begonias, Roses to Ferns, and much, much more. A must-see is The Calyx which is a beautiful indoor display of the finest flora, presented in a picturesque way. They’re open 10:00am to 4:00pm daily (except public holidays). The gardens are well laid out and immaculately maintained, and add a dash of natural colour to the heart of the city.

5. Head to Circular Quay

Leave the Botanic Gardens and head west towards Opera House Gate, which will lead you into the figurative and literal hub of Sydney and its iconic harbour. Circular Quay acts as a stepping stone for most of the attractions in and around the harbour and is an energetic, bustling location with ferries that can take you to a variety of locations and offers great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Circular Quay presents many options for getting from Point A to Point B, either by bus, ferry or train. It will offer you the chance to choose your own adventure from below.

6. Visit the Sydney Opera House

Proceed further along to the Sydney Opera House, which is another one of the must-do things in Sydney, and perhaps one of the most famous icons in all of Australia next to Ayer's Rock (or Uluru). This unique feat of architectural design and engineering adds tremendously to the character of the already scenic harbour that contains it, and is one of the most photographed places in the country.

The Sydney Opera House can be found on a spot called Bennelong Point at the north-eastern tip of Circular Quay and is a true triumph of modern architecture that makes for the picture-perfect location for a postcard-worthy photo! Tours of the Sydney Opera House are also available if you wish to take a more in-depth look of its fascinating insides, taking visitors inside for a behind-the-scenes dose of Opera House-related goodness.

7. Head to The Rocks for a taste of Europe

Being the home to the first convicts in 1788, The Rocks is thriving with its heritage buildings, history and boutiques. Where you’re sitting a cafe, exploring the high street of shops, or soaking the sunshine at the local pub – you're bound to enjoy something in this precinct.

For the best streets for cute stores and nice cafes, it’s best to walk along Argyle Street, George Street and Atherdon Street to browse through them all.

8. Explore and have lunch at Circular Quay

Walk around Circular Quay, taking in the many highlights and views of the harbour from the foreshore, perhaps stopping for lunch at one of the small harbourside restaurants or cafes along the way. A visit here is extremely helpful if you are planning further travel after you are done with your first day in Sydney or moving on to a different part of Australia! The area is always busy, with live entertainment put on by street buskers, tourists grabbing snapshots of the harbour, and a great outlook to watch the many boats and ships pass in and out of this lovely waterway. Or if you’re looking for a cheap feed, there’s a Maccas right near the Circular Quay station.

9. Catch a ferry on the Harbour

Head to East Circular Quay to the departure terminal and hop on a ferry for a relaxing round-trip that will show you the harbour and its surrounds from the perspective of the water. Comprised of five separate jetties, the wharf at Circular Quay has ferries that travel around the harbour and stop at such key sightseeing destinations as Taronga Zoo, Watson's Bay, Manly and Parramatta. Sydney's excellent ferry system provides easy, convenient travel between these key spots and is a fine example of metro transport done correctly, with ferries running regularly so you'll never be left waiting too long.

10. Wander around the city at night

Take a circuit through the city centre at night for a whole other aspect on the proceedings - Sydney truly comes alive when illuminated in the evenings - and follow a path through the Spanish Quarter, Chinatown or Sydney’s main George Street. The streets are always lively in these areas, and Sydney (and Australia's) multicultural diversity is on full display here. Follow it up by travelling past the historic Queen Victoria Building before returning back to Darling Harbour in preparation to cap off the day for the evening.

11. Dinner on Darling Harbour

Dine at one of the many fine restaurants in the Darling Harbour area, to finish off a busy but enjoyable day in Sydney. With more than 30 restaurants in the area, there is sure to be something to suit all tastes, however, prices can be a little more expensive than other restaurants off the harbour. Some of Australia's most highly-rated restaurants can be found in this area, so if you're willing to splurge then there are few better places in the country to do so.

A new foodie area has opened up nearby, Darling Square, which offers contemporary modern foods in the likes of Thai, Chinese, Turkish and more. Such a perfect representation of the multi-culturalism Australia has to offer. With gorgeous light displays, it’s a fun area to dine and can be less expensive than right in Darling Harbour. You’ll find this is where the locals go.

The outstanding views of the city at night aren't just lovely; they're in a central location that makes it easy for you to then return to your accommodation or board your flight out of Sydney.

And that's a wrap! If you're looking for more things to do in Sydney, be sure to check out our main region page for details on all the best attractions, activities, tours and more.

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